Storytelling: An Internal Comms Weapon For Success
How the age-old tradition of telling tales could transform your employee comms strategy through a focus on internal storytelling. This article sets out what it is and how can you use it to reach employees.
Storytelling has been central to human communication for thousands of years. And, from cave walls to Netflix, the art (and science) of constructing convincing narratives remains a highly sought-after skill in the modern world.
However, while we recognize the emotional impact of storytelling for entertainment, organizations, managers, business leaders, and internal communicators could do more to use internal storytelling as a powerful internal communications tactic.
When competing for attention, storytelling is part of the answer because it can connect facts and emotions into a persuasive whole. Incorporating stories into business messages and intranet content can have numerous effects, including creating a shared sense of identity or improving company culture and values.
Research on the neuroscience of the human mind shows that stories have the power to get our brains working, get us excited, and appeal to emotion-driven thinking. For internal communications, this is exactly what’s needed to get employees excited about where they work.
Here are five ways to implement internal storytelling in your organization.
1. Using storytelling to drive engagement
A challenge for internal communications professionals in 2023 (as it is every year, let’s face it) is driving employee engagement. Are the people in your organization aware of updates, connected to other people, and engaged in sharing your company’s overall strategy and vision?
This is a difficult task at the best of times, but if communications come across as staid and impersonal they will almost certainly fail to inspire people.
Written communications are a danger here because although sending a quick message via email or an intranet update may be the fastest way to distribute information, faster is not always better—especially if it comes across as staid and impersonal.
Mixing up policy announcements with personal stories, customer narratives, and visuals can engage employees both intellectually and emotionally. When used, these tools do more than tell: they show individuals situations in which they are able to relate to and convey in their daily working lives.
- Humanize your topics: Consider using real customer profiles to enhance your strategy; having real people express their ideas and speak about their challenges can encourage employees to join in the conversation.
- Incorporate graphics: An image can be worth a thousand words. Images can often communicate a story in a more reasonable and relatable way than written text.
- Don’t forget the audio: Voice is a primal part of the storytelling tradition. So, consider using presentations and videos instead of relying on writing if you think it could help to easily explain complex concepts.
2. Storytelling and your leaders
Throughout history, strong leaders have also been highly effective communicators. The same applies to the role of a leader or manager in an organization. People choose to follow leaders because of how they make them feel, and stories are proven to be a powerful way to make strong emotional connections with employees.
Many leaders may not be used to the concept of sharing personal experiences, choosing instead to focus on the literal and logical points. However, stories that include personal details can encourage deeper bonds than simply imparting information.
The Forbes article “The CEO as Storyteller in Chief” explains how CEOs use storytelling to enhance their own company narratives. This doesn’t have to include a vast trove of personal information from the CEO, and the article gives a compelling example of how the former CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, often referred to his personal trips to Milan and his love for the brewed espresso he discovered and brought back with him.
Schultz shared this story with Starbucks employees to inspire, humanize his leadership, foster positive behavior, and show that their job was more than just selling coffee. Because of this, he created a passion for a valuable coffee experience among employees, leaving them engaged and more motivated to the purpose of the organization.
Sharing authentic storytelling in this way can be a powerful but simple way to communicate company values.
3. Storytelling and employee-generated content
Storytelling does not solely need to come from business leaders; in many organizations, employee-generated content can be a useful part of an internal communications strategy.
Experiences and stories told by employees can be especially influential for other workers (and a useful learning tool for managers and leaders) because they can be authentic and relatable. Outside of work, 51% of consumers trust user-generated content over marketing messages, so this is a valuable human trait that internal communicators should also remember.
Rather than relying solely on emails and text-heavy PowerPoint decks, organizations should also cultivate and amplify employee voices through the channels that are most authentic for them too.
4. Using the elements of storytelling in your content
The dream of every internal communicator is to create content that employees actually look forward to receiving. Understanding the elements of a good story could help you to create engaging messages that people respond to.
(Source: ABC Copywriting)
Points to remember are:
- Creating trust with the teller: Whether it’s a software demo or an email, it’s important that the main author of any communicator is a trusted source. There are many ways to establish credibility, including fully completing your intranet profiles so that people will come to know you and your credentials more fully.
- What challenges have been overcome: Drama is a common trope in stories, but that doesn’t mean your internal storytelling needs to be an against-all-odds triumph. It’s simply important to explain the context for action or change, enabling people to see why the change was necessary and what will be achieved by making it.
- Relatability: Otherwise known as the “What’s In It For Me?” factor.
- Make stories immersive: The more information people have, the more they will be able to visualize their own part within it. Add relevant contextual details and ensure that stories are immersive for employees.
- Keep it simple, storyteller: Balancing detail and structure will allow you to keep your comms shorter while maximizing impact.
- Familiarity: This is one of the easiest storytelling elements within an organization because they typically rely on common language, people, and historical events. Make sure that even when you’re setting out a vision for the future you understand the impact that a familiar history can have.
5. Internal storytelling on the intranet
Once you have all these great stories from leaders, employees, and internal departments, you may be at a loss for where to put them.
There are many mediums available in the workplace as a publishing location, but you do not want to choose them all. Failure to decide on the appropriate channel can lessen the effects of your content and even lead to communication overload in some cases.
If you are looking for a place with interactive capabilities then the number one choice for your storytelling posts is probably your intranet software—where people have the ability to comment, share, and like posts, giving them more exposure and getting more employees engaged. You can also use rich-media such as images and videos within your intranet pages, and send multichannel communications (email, mobile app, Teams, Slack, digital signage, and more) that alert people to new updates.
A winning tactic in your internal comms strategy
The benefits of storytelling are enough to take the communications of your company to the next level. Broadcasting employee and leader stories is more than just a method to amplify important messages; it is a medium for connecting people at all levels.
That connection leads to an empathetic understanding that is more powerful than the most logical and conventional communication means. Storytelling makes messages stick, and that power can be a crucial weapon in your internal communication planning.